Lenovo Group Limited (ADR) (NASDAQOTH:LNVGY) acquired IBM’s personal computer business in 2005 for $1.25 billion, instantly skyrocketing the Chinese computer maker to the #3 spot in worldwide computer production by volume. A big part of that deal was the ThinkPad brand, which Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi pointed to as one of the biggest advantages of his company’s acquisition.
Last quarter, Lenovo Group Limited (ADR) (NASDAQOTH:LNVGY) overtook Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) as the world’s biggest computer maker. One of the biggest drivers of the company’s growth is enterprise sales, and although the ThinkPad is growing outdated, business customers are notoriously averse to innovation. So how can one of the world’s most successful laptops evolve without changing too much?
Living in the past
The ThinkPad’s premier T Series is one of its most popular brands — a sturdy, reliable group of laptops marketed toward corporate and enterprise users. Lenovo Group Limited (ADR) (NASDAQOTH:LNVGY) hasn’t changed much since it acquired the ThinkPad, except to stretch the screen to the widescreen resolution that has become the norm in the laptop industry.
Many of the T Series features seem a bit antiquated. A small, quaintly titled “ThinkLight” illuminates the keyboard at the push of a button. A little red nub embedded in the center of the keyboard provides a rough approximation of a mouse. And the the physical metal latch looks positively steampunk compared to the magnetic closures of many modern laptops.
So Lenovo Group Limited (ADR) (NASDAQOTH:LNVGY)’s newest ThinkPad, the T431s, is a significant shift for the PC maker. Although it falls into the UltraBook class, it points toward the ThinkPad’s future, and reveals a company that is comfortable with their flagship computer but not content to forgo innovation.
Bowing to market pressure, the T431s incorporates a new single-button multi-touch trackpad. Gone is the physical latch in favor of a magnetic one. And the T431s is missing that tiny flashlight — backlit keys now provide a more modern means of illumination.
These changes are positive and shouldn’t bother too many loyal users. The bigger, simpler trackpad provides the same functionality with greater ease-of-use. The magnetic latch is one less breakable part to send the laptop to your company’s IT department. And the backlit keyboard is positively premium compared to the yellowed ThinkLight.
What stayed the same
That maddening red nub hasn’t left, and neither have the plentiful ports. The T431s packs plentiful USB ports, and even a VGA jack. That connector–superseded by HDMI in most modern displays–is nonetheless essential for businesspeople who need to jack into older projectors at upgrade-wary customer sites.